“Then I grew up and realized that most of us are more than one person. As we figure out how we fit in socially and learn how to tailor our behavior to various situations, we end up with several—often wildly dissimilar—versions of ourselves.”Martha Beck
How many personalities do I have? I began picturing what my different reflections look like – figuratively and literally. When I’m feeling well-rested and competent, I walk differently, I talk differently, I want to leave my house, I want to interact. I put on make-up and get dressed beyond yoga pants.
When I’m feeling tired or sad, I’m unproductive and spend time distracting myself (reading or watching TV). When I’m afraid, I stay hidden by staying home or by not interacting. When I’m lonely, I eat. When I’m angry, I become manic with something (ferociously clean the house, for example). These are all different personalities.
If I had a mirror, I’m sure my reflection would be totally different. My husband, as a matter of fact, says he can tell how I’m doing with just one look.
While I’m sure this list isn’t comprehensive, here are the personalities I can readily identify:
Funny, in a writing class I took just this morning we were told that in the best books, the protagonist and antagonist have opposing character flaws. I don’t need two characters for that – I AM that.
These personalities feel so distinct – like separate entities. Do you remember the visual of the devil on one shoulder and the angel on the other? That’s exactly how it feels.
These opposing forces often make me feel crazy. Do you ever feel that way? I actually asked my therapist recently if I had multi-personality disorder. Thankfully, she laughed.
Do you ever feel like you’re the only one? In a class last night, we talked about the Inner Critic versus Inner Wisdom. As the conversation deepened, I realized everyone in the group has multi-personality disorder! Yea!
Wouldn’t it be great if we could just say which personality is running the show. Maybe I’ve had a bad day and Miss Annoyed is running the show. When my husband comes home, I could say, “Hi Honey. I’ve had a crappy day and Miss Annoyed is my dominant personality right now. Give her some room.” Instead I just act all annoyed and pissy and my poor husband has to walk on eggshells.
Notice I didn’t ask which personalities I wanted to be. I asked which personalities are the authentic me? The answer is simple: ALL OF THEM.
So, I got to thinking. If I’m going to have these personalities, how can I use them to get the life I desire? In order to answer that, I had to answer a bigger question: WHAT LIFE DO I DESIRE?
I ruminated on that for a long time. I’d love to have a self-controlled life, for example. I’d love to have a life where I’m always patient, kind, productive, joyful …. I started making this list and immediately my “Get Real” personality spoke up. There is no such thing as a life of perfect patience, kindness, etc.
If that’s true, then what REALISTIC LIFE DO I DESIRE?
I’ve decided I want a life where I honor all my personalities. Why can’t I like Miss Bitch as much as I like Miss Kind? We are given these personalities for a reason – each voice has a purpose. If I try to squash one, it will simply become louder.
I’ve come up with a plan. I’m going to give each personality a face – maybe choose an emojii. When one of my faces appears, I’m going to talk to her as if she were tangible. Each personality is real so I might as well treat them as such. Here is a sample conversation:
Miss Impulsive. Although my impulsive behaviors do not always involve spending money, I still thought this was apt. My impulsivity almost always involves greed (eat it, buy it, etc.).
Miss Impulsive: Buy that book. RIGHT NOW!
Me: Why do we need that book?
Miss Impulsive: Who said anything about need. We WANT it. But, if you want some excuse I can give you one: you’re trying to be a writer and in order to be a writer, you have to be a reader.
Me: But you do know I have at least 15 books on my shelf that I’ve yet to read.
Miss Impulsive: So, what’s one more. And this one looks so good AND Sandy recommended it.
Me: Why don’t I just wait until I need a new book.
Miss Impulsive: You’ll forget about this one.
Me: How about putting it in the “I Want” list so it’s always there. Or, I could download the first chapter on Kindle?
Miss Impulsive: I WANT IT. I want to touch it, feel it, smell it.
Me: What about the money? Is that how we should spend $15?
Miss Impulsive: It’s $15 not $1500. And, anyway, Dave eats out every day for lunch.
Me: Okay, I’m going to put this book in the wish list. In 24-hours bring it back up. If we still want it, we’ll discuss it some more.
Miss Impulsive: (she made no comment, she just huffed and threw her hands in the air).
Me: And, let’s either ask to join Dave for lunch today or find something else we’d like (maybe a fountain vanilla coke?).
I didn’t buy the book. I did put it in my wish list. Maybe tomorrow I’ll have the same conversation and buy the book.
Rather than ignore my impulsive personality or just do what she says, I gave her an opportunity to speak. I negotiateD. I could see what she really needed – it’s not a new book. She needed something deeper.
If you look at my conversation with Miss Impulsive, several deeper issues appear. Greed? Jealousy? Maybe even avoidance since I was doing this debate rather than accomplishing my goals for the day. As I sat for a few minutes and looked at her (seriously, I pictured her little face), I realized we were lonely. We’d been in the house alone for the third day. We’d been working hard and our progress had been much slower than desired. We needed to get out. We needed a treat, a reward and a new plan.
In a few minutes, I’m taking Miss Impulsive to the local coffee shop. We’re going to sit on the deck, drink a high-fat, frothy concoction. We are going to reframe what we’ve accomplished and make a more realistic set of goals. If that doesn’t satisfy, tomorrow, I’ll discuss buying the book.
Time has passed and I never made it to the coffee shop … but, guess what, I no longer needed it. Just listening to myself seems to have satisfied that inner impulsivity. I’m reminded of when my daughter wants to talk – sometimes she wants advice and action, sometimes she just wants to vent. Today venting seemed to be enough.
In April 2012 I had a mental breakdown. The real thing. I have about 36 hours that I don’t remember....